ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): A$AP ROCKY – “TESTING” | 2018-06-10

Yeezy season is not only approaching, but is in full-floating production and execution mode at this very minute, with a one-two-three G.O.O.D. Music-projects released Friday after Friday across May and June, packaged and delivered to us all mere mortals in form of excellent 7-track albums by Pusha T (Daytona), Kanye West (ye), as well as the most recent Ye and Kid Cudi’s hip-hop duo Kids See Ghosts eponymous debut record. In parallel, a mildly progressively heating Southern European late Spring period brought yours truly to the mighty international (but actually very British) fashion show that is Barcelona’s Primavera Sound. Whilst live music was nonchalantly put to the side in favour of Instagram selfies and enhanced drug use, I did manage to find some of the hidden stages and check out astonishing and enthralling live performances by artists such as the garçon Tyler, The Creator, baroque rock and roll monsieurs Arctic Monkeys, mega cat Thundercat, dangerously honest hood minstrel Vince Staples, and Swiss black metal primordial chanters Zeal & Ardor. Most importantly though, and way more prominently tied to the present music review piece, I got to catch the closing headline bill set by New York rapper A$AP Rocky, which followed the release of the A$AP Mob member’s third studio album Testing mere days before on 25th May. These two events combined made for quite the relevant alignment between Lord Flacko’s artistic manifestation and myself, so much so that it officially triggered an ARM alert and so here we are taking a closer scrutiny of this star-studded and featured record.

Quite similarly to what the preconditions were going into ARM’s recent effort on J. Cole’s last LP KOD, there is a little PSA/full disclosure statement that needs to be outlined, so as to better contextualise the present review of Testing: I secretly never liked A$AP Rocky and everything he represented, and almost never listened to anything coming from him nor A$AP Mob to be completely honest. After all, I come from a completely different background involving primarily alternative rock, hardcore, and punk, so I guess this mustn’t come as an unbelievable surprise. With that being said, as trap and cloud rap started to steal rock’s scene, both at live gigs’ mosh pits and in the charts, I too inevitably got caught in the current mainstream hip-hop fever, up to a point where now some of my favourite artists are prima donna MCs. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s delve into Rocky’s new studio LP, released under RCA Records and composed of 15 tracks, for almost 55 minutes of running time made of freshly baked new material. For Testing, the Harlem rapper-producer lined up a wealth of collaborators and contributors, ranging from the aforementioned Kid Cudi to Frank Ocean, to Skepta and Snoop Dogg. But spoiler alert, no one truly ever managed to take the full spotlight away from Rocky on this one, as he finds himself venturing into vastly experimental fields of industrial-trap hip-hop, while at the same time distilling pure moments of superior melodic craft.

The otherworldly and subterranean bass frequencies accompanying savage and fiery opener “Distorted Records” are something very rarely heard on mainstream projects, yet A$AP Rocky manages to pull it off in a very slick and contextual manner, whereby the inherent nature of the cut couldn’t be better epitomised by the literal name of the song. Such an opening high-note is well maintained throughout track number two, the album’s lead single “A$AP Forever“, sampling Moby’s pop crown jewel “Porcelain” and pairing a tastily belligerent flow with aspirational and tongue-in-cheeky bars (“I put A$AP on my tat / I put New York on the map / I put the gang on the flames / They gon’ remember the name“). “Tony Tone” at number three is a definite grower that showcases one of Rocky’s standout solo performances on this project, firing an abrasive warped groove filled with hooky sections and leveraging repetitions to make its way into the listeners’ psyches. The 101 on contemporary mumble rap/trap that follows, “Fukk Sleep”, enlisting the help of an extinguished FKA twigs, fails to leave a proper permanent mark, both as a standalone cut and as when placed in context with the full album, ending up being a pretty forgettable track overall. Second single “Praise the Lord (Da Shine)” featuring British grime don Skepta closes the first third of Testing with what seems like a fairly safe choice, both collaboration-wise and with respect to greater melody and harmonic textures, wrapping up an album section that promised so much after its first two teasers but that actually faded a little bit in quality as the tracklist progressed.

Sadly, “CALLDROPS” at number six does nothing in the way of uplifting the downward momentum of the album at this point, boldly continuing a pretty irritating trend pertaining to mainstream hip-hop records consisting of randomly including (real or staged) phone voicemail messages and turning them into actual tracks through a dubious genius spark of inspiration, not even remotely tied to the growing instinct of strategically increasing the number of album tracks so as to leverage modern streaming payout rate counts by dominant services like Spotify and Apple Music. Fortunately, the excellently produced and experimental “Buck Shots” delivers one of the highest and most fortunate moments on the album, driven by addictive and fun lyrical motifs (“Homeboy you ain’t know (ends where they buck shot) / Had a bitch suckin’ on a lollipop at the bus stop / Green Glock, red Glock (buck shot) / They ain’t really ready for me when I— (buck shot) / They ain’t really ready for me when I— (buck shot)”) as well as fitting beat switches and in-composition transitions that make the song go by in two shakes. The following set of three tracks (“Guns N Butter”, “Brotha Man”, and “OG Beeper”) ascribe some confusion and surging anonymity to the record’s mid-section that not even some A-list credited and uncredited collabs (Juicy J, French Montana, Snoop Dogg) are able to salvage, only for said clumsiness to be overcome by another fantastic cut in the form of the beautifully harmonised and sung ballad  “Kids Turned Out Fine” (admittedly Rocky’s favourite song off Testing).

The latter record also doubles as introduction to the last third of the album, and boy oh boy, was this worth the wait as well as a couple bumpy and subpar listens on the way of getting here. Every single track wrapping up this project in its latter section is a spectacular, handsomely crafted trap gem in its own peculiar way: from the dreamy, cloudy, chorus-y, and gigantically bigger-than-life “Hun43rd” (where I’ll go as far to say it might be one of the best songs this rap genre has seen in recent memory), to the introspective and fully confessional sentimental opus “Changes” (look out for the staggering beat/mood switch at 2:55 on this one), passing through the social critique and cathartic, punching lyricism of “Black Tux, White Collar” (“I say motherfuck you ni**as for the hate that you investin’ (yeah) / Fuck police cause he probably wanna arrest me (check it out) / Fuck the prison system, this injustice was ingestive (slatt) / All black tuxes, get the white collars jealous like / All my role models either dead or in the pen’ / I had no choice to be the ni**a that I am / Stuck with bros, stuck the code (yeah) / ‘Cede emblem on the fender (yeah)“).

The Frank Ocean-featured “Purity” acts as emblematic curtains close to the 15-track Testing in form of a gently guitar-picking lick leading A$AP Rocky’s growling distorted vocals, before making way to some of the best rapping and flow Ocean has shown in a while, taking up much of the song’s compositional and delivery substance pushing Rocky (and rap goddess Lauryn Hill, who’s featured in multiple spots on this cut) to taking care of vocal harmonising in the background. To be fair, such laid-back, supporting role of Rocky is not representative of the best material found on this album, whereby overall, the sensation is rather that the tracks stuffed with notable third-party features overshadowing Lord Flacko end up leaving something to be wished for (see particularly “Fukk Sleep”, “Praise the Lord [Da Shine]”, and “Brotha Man”). Contrarily, this album leaves its strongest marks and is at its most convincing precisely in those moments and situations where the perception is that A$AP Rocky is fully and wholly himself, for good and bad, in all his flaws, excellences, and vulnerabilities (case in point, the visceral “Distorted Records”, or the gorgeous “Buck Shots”, or again the album’s best four minutes with “Hun43rd”). J. Cole has recently demonstrated how even huge mainstream rappers can put out a whole record without a single external collab – albeit with mixed success – and now that I’m thinking about it, by naming this album Testing Rocky perhaps wasn’t actually hinting at its sonic and thematic experimentation, but he rather wanted us listeners to test out his individual artistic craftsmanship finding its qualitative peak, at the same time creating a legitimate precedent for what could grow into an actual, truly solo LP as its next big follow-up.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

A$AP ROCKY

“TESTING”

2018, RCA Records

http://www.asapmob.com

asap-rocky-testing

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ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): PATRICK PAIGE II – “LETTERS OF IRRELEVANCE” | 2018-05-20

So the new Arctic Monkeys album, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, came out last week and I still think it’s pretty wack and extremely underwhelming, so I’m simply not going to give a review spin. Can’t be bothered. I’m willing to accept the idea that I’m somewhat “not getting it”, but man, how only God knows hard it is journeying through those eleven tracks every single time. I mean, at least half of those songs to me are so identity-less and undistinguishable that I’m still not able to tell which one is which without repetitively looking at their long titles, as they do nothing but converge into a wishy-washy space-rock reverberated slime that would’ve found a better home as Alex Turner’s The Last Shadow Puppets B-sides. Also, in other news, next week sees the release of the debut self-titled EP by Californian punk-hardcore outfit Pressure Cracks, for which my man Jason Aalon Butler doubles as screaming vocalist. Make damn sure to check out their mighty, tasty, and infuriated first cut “Be A Wolf“, streaming now on YouTube and YouTube alone (which I don’t think is the best idea and ROI-strategy for the group, as we all know Google pays out the lowest average playback rates of any streaming service… Guys, you should really at least hit Apple Music or at the very least Spotify with that shit).

All this to convey the message that, in the meantime and while waiting for Pressure Cracks’ debut release, it was on me to find a new project that would grab my attention, maintain it, and nurture it stupendously enough to have me draft an unpacking ARM piece to hit the ether airwaves, so as to feed upon the algorithmic logics of SEO and nowadays’ promotional marketing keeping this site afloat. Such an epiphany came to me whilst browsing through the meanderings of Twitter, as a while back I rested my active listening attention on Los Angeles jazz-rapper Patrick Paige II’s debut solo single “On My Mind/Charge It to the Game“, released back at the beginning of April as first promo cut for his full-length studio album Letters of Irrelevance, which instead came out just mere days ago on 18th May. Unfamiliar with the dude, a quick web research (and most publications’ headlines) revealed at the time how Patrick Paige II is none other than the bassist and in-house producer for the influential and critically-acclaimed R&B/funk-soul collective The Internet. My bad for not knowing that right away, but hey, we’re all fallible. While the latter band never really did anything for me – yes I did try purchasing and forcing myself to listen to their flamboyant Ego Death, but something about the mellow and continuously laid-back delivery of frontwoman Syd was always a little too off-putting for me – my curiosity was struck with this first single of Paige II. I didn’t love it right off the bat, in fact I thought it was kind of ok (even though the resemblance to anything Thundercat would put out is almost frightening, plus Syd sings the freaking chorus on this one…), but I glimpsed enough potential to keep an eye on the release of his full LP.

And thank the Lord I did, because in retrospect I wouldn’t have blamed myself too much for not having done so. That is, the 8th of May saw the advent of a second teaser single, called “Voodoo”, which I found to be quite weak and once again very reminiscent of the type of work Patrick Paige II would undertake as his main day job in The Internet, which here reads as ‘not a good thing’. The song is a slowed down, washed-out lounge-y neo-soul/R&B scarcely led by intermittent background vocals that ought to put a little toddler to sleep at night, given the right circumstances. So when the full project dropped a couple days ago, I was tremendously glad I barely held on to this and got repaid back with high interest rates and general gratification. Paradoxically, even now in the context of the full album, I find the two promotional singles to be among the weakest moments on the record – although the ‘second song in the song/outro/beat switch’ “Charge It to the Game”, kicking in at about 3:15 into the track, is actually pretty rad and enlists a superb refrain by Arkansian hip-hop artist Kari Faux – and I still can’t fathom who in their right own mind would select these two as teaser cuts when the tracklist elsewhere contains terrific gems such as “The Party Song (Do My Dance)” or “Ode to Inebriation“.

Speaking of which, the latter track brings to the attention the fact that Letters of Irrelevance is actually a project dealing with a number of extremely serious and relevant subject matters, ranging from loss and mourning (Patrick Paige II dedicates various moments on the album, case in point the intro number “Silent Night”, to his late mother), loneliness, mental health, addiction, and family. Overall, and I still stand by my now-publicly-available initial reaction, this is a very dark and thematically uncomfortable record that ought to be understood as a coming-of-age of sorts and therapeutic-cathartical process for the Los Angeles-native, who it turns out is incredibly good at pairing such heavy topics with tremendous and brilliantly fitting compositions as well as instrumentations. One of the best examples of this is track number two “The Best Policy”, which sees a dreamy and cloudy keys instrumental synched with prudent drumming, accompanying substantial bars delivered in a surprisingly talented fashion by the bassist-turned-MC (“Skeletons in my closet and it’s so many, doors is wide open / This is dope shit for the birds, I contemplated leaving Earth / The only reason I ain’t do it, I’d rather not go to hell and burn / Plus my moms would be upset and I’d rather not chance that“).

Letters of Irrelevance (a tribute to the ephemeral and timely phenomenon of overestimating problems of the now when looking back from a bigger picture in the future, in the words of the creator himself) gets absolutely excellent in its second half, after scattered sparks of self-indulgence (“Heart and Soul [Interlude]”), blandness (“Voodoo”), and uselessness (“Voicemail”) are left behind. Leading side B of the LP is the gorgeous and sensual soul number “Red Knife” (featuring superb singer Daisy), which is essentially the best example as to how to successfully re-interpet The Internet’s flair and style in a solo manner. What follows is an extremely hooky, catchy, and G-funky/gangsta pair of tracks at number eight and nine, embodied first by what should’ve been the lead trappy single for this project, “The Party Song (Do My Dance)” with an accomplished appearance of singer/songwriter/producer ForteBowie, and then the fantastic, gloomy, and atmospheric “Get It With My Ni**as”, featuring cameos by Sareal and G Perico. At number ten comes what is arguably the most important song on the record, the aforementioned tell-all and introspective opus alcohol addiction testimony “Ode to Inebriation” (“Never the less I confess, this shit never helps / Destroying myself, abusing the potion / Make the pain slow-motion, just bad as a cry for help / Man, I got it bad when a ni**a mad or a ni**a sad / I don’t need a glass, man fuck a flask / Drink it just what I bought it in just like my dad“). The track not only showcases Patrick Paige II’s talent as bold and daring songwriter and lyricists, but it’s also one of the best expressions of his immense gifted skills on electric bass.

“The Last Letter” is what follows and it wraps up the album altogether and, to be frank, pales a little bit in comparison to its predecessor on the tracklist, although being treated with great rhymes, verses, and intentions, not to mention one of the best beats on the whole record, glowing placid jazzy dynamics with thriving drums and splendid guitars. Yet, one of the best aspects about this project, is that portions of it – the second half – hit you straight from the first listen, but it also acts as absolute grower, revealing deeper cuts as well as bits and pieces of it throughout long-term listens. Moreover, its lyrical narrative is a whole other topic on its own, existing almost distinctively from the accompanying sound and unveiling stories of pain, longing, struggle, remorse, and self-therapy. Hat’s off to this young and talented songwriter/rapper/bassist/producer, who not only decided to put it all out there transparently for the world to tap in, but he also chose to do so on his debut solo album, further justifying the attempt by unwrapping spectacular instrumental motifs, beautiful melodic lines, and a general gist for essential, honest, real, and transmitting songwriting. Among other things, The Internet have a new album coming out later in July this year, the follow-up to their Grammy-nominated Ego Death, but I’m almost certain and willing to bet sums of money that in times of critical recaps at the end of 2018, it will be Patrick Paige II’s release that will have delved into more hearts.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

PATRICK PAIGE II

“LETTERS OF IRRELEVANCE”

2018, Patrick Paige 29 LLC/EMPIRE

https://soundcloud.com/patrick-paige

patrick-paige-II-letters-of-irrelevance

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): J. COLE – “KOD” | 2018-04-27

ARM is back as I sort of forced myself to switch gears from relentlessly sucking up all of Kanye’s new tweets and the constructively enlightened discourse his catalysing sparks of debate are generating every time he rapes that blue bird submit button. As you might have realised, the hip-hop editorial leitmotiv is back too, after having caught a little break (and a fever) more recently in favour of punk-rock execution. Whether I like it or not, mine and any above-average music fan’s exposure to the rapping game has in current times become as inevitable and ubiquitous as parsley for Italian cuisine, while the genre and its underlying culture went to be the dominant form of cultural expression in the mainstream. Digressing a little bit on a different artistic form tangent for a moment, yours truly can’t recommend enough HBO’s four-part TV documentary miniseries The Defiant Ones, revolving around the rise (and no fall) of Apple Music boss and industry influencer Jimmy Iovine as well as rapper, record producer and all-round don Dr. Dre. The documentary narrates their relationship through the decades as well as extremely insightful glimpses into how to create, run, and destroy successful music ventures in the modern age. It should be available on Netflix depending on where your praiseworthy soul is based, so go check it out if y’all trust your hostess with the mostest.

Now, this very ARM instalment is some sort of unchartered territory for me as three Michelin star-studded music critic, because for as terribly and unforgivably late to the party I might be, North Carolina-rapper J. Cole‘s newest album KOD is honestly his first one of I listened to, out of his now 5-unit strong discography. I’m not really sure why, but something about the woke and modern conscious rapper par excellence never really clicked with me, and out of the eternal epic rivalry between him and King Kendrick that both the trade press and different fanbases initiated years ago, I’ve actually always kinda been more of a K-Dot guy. However, this ephemeral platonic musical marriage between who writes this sentence right now like, for real, and J. Cole was probably bound to happen at some point, as only a few months ago I was to remain quite impressed and affected by a sung feature of his on the track “Zendaya” by Los Angeles-MC Cozz, off the latter’s debut release Effected, out in February earlier this year. Incidentally, Cozz’s album came out on Cole’s own Dreamville Records label, which goes to explain not only the artistic collaboration between the two but quite probably a timely heightened creative rollercoaster for Mr Cole himself.

So without any further ado, let’s delve into J. Cole’s latest (fifth) studio LP KOD, which as the Fayetteville-native explained himself, holds various different meanings and interpretations (Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed, Kill Our Demons), which I bluntly choose to convey at discretion of each listener’s preference. The project came out on Friday 20th April on Dreamville and runs over a thin-for-hip-hop 42 minutes, spanning 12 songs with no external feature whatsoever – except for his alter-ego alias moniker kiLL edward on a couple tracks. I thought this was a rather interesting and debatable choice, given his prominence of late shining on other people’s material. Anyway, the album was promoted by the bouncy and malicious “ATM“, accompanying a catchy hook with a fast-paced and muddled verse flow spitting reflective bars philosophising over the vices of money lust (“Proceed with caution / I heard if you chase it only results in / A hole in your heart / Fuck it, I take the whole cake and I won’t leave a portion / It’s only an organ”). Not much later as part of KOD’s release week, J. Cole unveiled another music video for song number seven on the tracklist, “Kevin’s Heart“, starring comedian and actor… Kevin Hart. In fact, very much on brand with its visual casting skills, the track turned out to be rather underwhelming, only partially made bearable by a pleasant intro motif/refrain sandwiching tedious and off-putting trap vibes stretching throughout the too long verses.

So much for a promotional campaign of KOD (to be fair, J. Cole himself only announced the arrival of the record mere days before the 20th April at scattered record listening parties thrown in the USA and UK), although luckily, this realisation doesn’t get in the way at all, as the best moments on this album are all to be found elsewhere. Beginning with the powerful, groovy, and elastic title track at number two (preceded by a slow, dusty, and soporific jazz-infused skippable intro tune), which has the NC-rapper put on his more braggadocious and haughty clothes, slugging and kicking the listener with ferocious lyrics very much in a tell-all mode, as well as one of the most fortunate and successful choruses on the whole record (“This is what you call a flip / Ten keys from a quarter brick / Bentley from his mama’s whip / K.O.D., he hard as shit”). Unfortunately, “KOD” is followed by the complete mess and swerve that is “Photograph”, which despite its laudable and illuminating message (put your phones down, kids), completely fails in both melodies and delivery/production.

But earlier we were trying to head somewhere nice, somewhere pleasant, and this can actually be achieved by going down the “Cut Off” road, a song immediately following the wasteland that “Photograph” provoked, and one of the longer cuts on the project just short of four minutes in length. Perhaps J. Cole’s “Yah”, the track features the MC as kiLL edward in form of a tuned down, low distorted preaching voice cradling a main harmonic melody wrapped by dangerous and introspective bars flowing at what I might dare to say could be J. Cole’s sweet spot in terms of vibe and aesthetic. Similarly, the bulk of lengthier cuts on KOD actually turned out to be the most enjoyable overall, offering convincing song dynamics, lyricism, and general artistry manifesting in various refreshing ways (once it’s through high-pitched intermezzos, another time spitting out jaw-dropping lines about family, friends, and the value of life). Tracks included in this latter elite inner circle are the monumental and instructive “BRACKETS”, the wonderful and painful “FRIENDS”, and the trap-done-right “Window Pain (Outro)” (albeit not actually the outro on the album).

Regrettably, this album does entail 12 records after all, and almost half of them aren’t actually able to leave a mark on me as listener and three Michelin star-studded music critic, even less so when taken into perspective with the more fortunate compositions on here discussed just above. In addition to the previously mentioned wretched pipsqueaks “Intro”, “Photograph”, and “Kevin’s Heart”, the tasteless and corny “Motiv8” as well as – brace yourself for… – the too minimal, too dry “1985 (Intro to ‘The Fall Off’)” go join this group of rejects, perhaps partly reminding myself why I never really vibed with Mr Cole in the first place. So all in all, it was nice to eventually meet you J. Cole, you are a talented and smart rapper sparking long-overdue and much-necessary conversations, but you should know that your final packaging often betrays your praiseworthy quality of intentions. “FRIENDS” and “Window Pain” are outstanding tracks and trust me when I tell you that I shall be spinning them for long. But man, four to five subpar songs out of a total of twelve is simply too many. See you perhaps in another five album’s time again?

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

J. COLE

“KOD”

2018, Dreamville Inc.

http://dreamville.com

180417-J-Cole-KOD-cover-800x800

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO NUEVE – MONASTERY OF METAL | 2018-03-19

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

Barcelona and its live music supply are back at full speed in the first quarter of the new year after a period of rest and assessment between December and January. The excitement for the local music scene boosted significantly about a month ago, as mighty music festival Primavera Sound revealed the full line up for its 15th edition, held in the Catalan capital at the end of May.

Once again, besides praising the festival for its innovative and variegated bill, international fans of the heavier alternative scene have plenty of reasons to be excited. Acts like Dead Cross, Watain, Shellac, Zeal & Ardor, and Here Lies Man all represent excellent bookings for an otherwise extremely colourful genre programming, at the same time cementing the special sweet spot that the mainstream event holds for the more extreme genres.

Yet, Primavera Sound is still more than three months away, so to keep busy in the meantime, we continued the exploration of the local scene by diving into smaller underground venues and event spaces. Admittedly, after having dissected most of the metropole last year, there isn’t a wealth of options left anymore. However, besides more established clubs like Razzmatazz and Apolo, the city has already demonstrated in the past that there is no shortage of bars-turned-venues that offer interesting and compelling gigs.

It’s exactly from this smaller typology of venues that the local music discovery resumed from last year. It didn’t take too long to stumble upon Sala Monasterio, a rather small seafront club located in the iconic and very touristic Port Olímpic, surrounded by beaches on both sides, and bordering with the previously mentioned – and in numerous occasions explored – Poblenou neighbourhood.

The venue caters to a variety of shows and genres, hosting a high number of concerts almost all year round. In fact, Sala Monasterio states that it proudly collaborates with a variety of cultural and musical associations promoting regional artistic endeavours, and specialises in ethnic music such as Brazilian forró, Uruguayan candombe, Argentinian tango as well as traditional Senegalese compositions.

Amidst such a strong musical contrast, one of the gigs that stood out took place on Saturday 3rd March, championed by a trio of Catalan extreme-metal bands: headliners Arcanus and supporters Metalfetamina and Last Dissonance. The show seemed like the perfect occasion to not only experience the venue first hand, but also add another lot of local acts to the list of trademark discoveries made so far stemming from the prosperous Spanish region.

Before delving into what went down during said evening, it should be mentioned that the beginning of February saw the latest edition of Punkat, a DIY festival with only “100% Catalan punk rock”. Unfortunately, conflicting schedules made it impossible to attend in person. However, it does represent a praiseworthy endeavour of the local scene, and a quick listen to headliners Guspira and Paüra made it seem worth attending. One bookmarked for next year for sure.

Once arrived at Sala Monasterio – not without difficulties due to a less than perfect external signalling, all hail Google Maps – what stood out was its asymmetric interior design and various instrumental paraphernalia hung on the walls à la Hard Rock Cafe. The venue succeeds in emanating feelings of both evergreenness and uniqueness at the same time, with rustic brick walls merged with pitch black roof layers, arranging its pavement space so as to leave most of its surface portion to the audience. It also gives the impression of being slightly worn out, indicating a great amount of concerts and people turnover.

As stated above, all three bands on the bill that evening were regional prides, and this appeared to reflect strongly on to the audience in attendance, confirmed by a decently crowded merch booth. This feeling also got amplified by the evident and strong confraternity among the crowd members. All signs pointed to the evening becoming an all things extreme metal Saturday night feast.

The headliners, groove-death metallers Arcanus, go back four years to 2014, when founding members Pau Bonet (drums) and Javier Muriel (rhythm guitars) recruited the rest of the band, welcoming lead guitarist Victor Vallespir and frontman Oscar Gallardo in quick succession. Shortly thereafter, the five-piece got completed by the joining of bassist Denis Fernández.

The band released their first five-track EP ‘Ashes ’in their current formation two years ago, drawing heavily from influences like Lamb of God, Gojira, Kreator, and Sepultura. In their own words, “‘Ashes’ is a compendium that intertwines the primitive ideas of the groove metal of the 90s and the roots of a modern really dark death metal”.

For the occasion, they were supported by speed/thrash metal outfit Metalfetamina, hailing from Girona with a self-released EP titled ‘El Ritual’ that dropped in 2017, as well as Badalonian deathcore minstrels Last Dissonance, who came together three years ago and are still working on their debut effort to be released in early 2018.

Metalfetamina, who surprisingly appeared on stage only as a guitar-drums duo, kicked off their opening slot at 10:30pm after various delays. However, this did little to upset a quite amused and inebriated audience, ready to hit the ground running for their night of fun. Too bad this had to to be postponed for a little bit, as the thrash duo took some time before getting comfortable enough to appear remotely loose.

The lack of a second rhythm guitarist and, more importantly, pumping bass frequencies didn’t help rectify an overall sound resulting too dry and slim, despite praiseworthy percussions skills. Betrayed by the extra vocal duties that the sole guitarist had to provide, the songs appeared a little too samey and didn’t present much variation amidst run-of-the-mill hardcore vocal deliveries.

Last Dissonance followed up by bringing a wave of electricity as soon as they climbed the Monasterio stage just before midnight, kicking off their show with a convincing abrasive attitude in both motions and sound. Sitting somewhere in-between a mild melodic death metal flair and ugly, stomping thrash metal hammerings, the Catalan youngsters played virtually non-stop for the better part of 40 minutes, before handing over the reigns to the house’s main course. Special mentions are in order for their spectacular captivating guitar work as well as their ability to interact with the audience.

The venue was pretty much packed when Arcanus climbed the narrow Sala Monasterio stage. Right from the first notes, the headliners transmitted firm cohesiveness and a smooth sound orchestration across all five musicians. Bassist Denis was especially instrumental for maintaining a constant tightness in Arcanus’ aggressive and wholly produced sonic aesthetic, often flirting with a fitting sludge/southern attitude.

Led by a catalogue mostly comprised of the impressive cuts off their latest EP ‘Ashes’, the outfit channeled their intense inner groove throughout their set, spearheaded by laidback frontman Victor’s thick and juicy vocals, with much complacency from the better part of the crowd.

Once again, underground venturing in search of quality local bands in the Catalan capital turned out to be a success, with the discovery of yet another interesting urban club offering fine alternative music harvesting regional talent. An evening to remember both for the facility and the artistic output, with the enthralling realization that a club in a strongly commodified area, for one special night felt like turning into a monastery of metal glorification.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

Sala Monasterio_Signage

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO OCHO – NEW YEAR, OPEN MUSIC | 2018-01-24

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

Notes from Barcelona returns with a slightly different spin. With live gigs and music events in the city slowing down over the Christmas and New Year holiday break, January seemed like a good time to delve into one of the few grassroot initiatives fostering live music in the Catalan capital: meet the OpenMusic Project.

OpenMusic is a Barcelona-founded movement looking at enabling and discovering emerging music talents in unlikely places, primarily by organizing pop-up live concerts in alternative venues around the city. The initiative started in 2014 and has so far put up dozens of gigs almost everywhere around town, ranging from local bars and shops to reclusive underground venues. To achieve this, the organisation works hard all year round to enable variety and continuity for both gig-goers and the project itself.

We had the chance to speak to OpenMusic Project’s Juan Criollo, who co-founded the initiative alongside his friend Eneko, playing a pivotal role in developing it into a fully-fledged reference point for the local underground scene.

Our chat touched upon a wide variety of topics, from assessing Barcelona as a musical city, judging the quality of local talents, to discussing how to maintain a cultural hub embedded in a region that is trapped in a deep socio-political crisis.

Juan first realised there was a big opportunity for alternative live music venues and experiences in Barcelona after noticing similar movements in France and England. He didn’t have to wait long before setting up a working group, motivated by a similar, shared enthusiasm among his peers. “The initial excitement and great potential behind OpenMusic Project resulted in an increase of the working team to five people. Each member with a real passion and creative skills ready for contribution”.

Despite the many potential obstacles, including inconvenient alternative spaces and venues, the goal of removing any separation between the artists and the public, both physically and metaphorically, keeps Juan motivated. “Big music festivals have you stand miles away from the stage with nothing but a giant TV screen videoing the performance. But to experience artists where you can nearly touch the guitar, that creates an entirely new way of experiencing, hearing and enjoying their music”.

After the success and traction of the first months, Juan was forced to reduce the team, primarily because of overlapping remits with venues’ catering and additional services. The team “has now returned to its original size of two people – myself and another friend, David from Xtrarradio Musicfest”.

“The collaboration with David has been monumental. Between him, myself and the various venue services, we are able to function and operate with great success and efficiency”. David’s scope includes booking and negotiations, leaving Juan to handle marketing and promotion. “This can range from posters, magazines, media, to deals and communications with agencies and sponsors. I also personally manage and cater for the bands once they arrive at Barcelona. Having bands crash on your couch is definitely one handy way of getting to know them”.

The conversation soon turns to musings about the notion of the Catalan capital as a recognised music city. Juan’s opinion is clear: he believes Barcelona portrays a strong image for being a music city internationally, yet at the same time it could do more to break away from its working leitmotiv only including the same handful of venues for all kinds of concerts and events.

In response to this perceived comfortable laziness on the part of the scene and its promoters, Juan counter argues that “the city actually offers endless potential spaces if utilised in the right way. Barcelona is full of aesthetically appealing abandoned spaces sitting idle and going to waste. The advantage of its amazing weather transforms public spaces such as rooftops and parks into perfect music venues”.

Whilst he figures that OpenMusic Project has only been able to explore a small portion of all that’s available in the city, the idea of Barcelona as a music hub is being leveraged by established stakeholders in order to reach out to the biggest and best players in the industry – not least hosting two of the biggest summer festivals in Europe (Primavera Sound and Sónar).

However, he also firmly believes that local underground artists aren’t being supported enough. “If it continues, they won’t ever see a local band headlining one of these big concerts. This is something OpenMusic Project is passionate about and influencing to change. No matter how big the band is headlining, we will always open with a local band”.

Almost inevitably, this stream of consciousness leads to the impact of the recent socio-political crisis – culminating in the unilateral declaration of independence of last October – and its effects on the scene. On this, he reveals that the sole noticeable change he observed when Catalonia’s secession challenge crisis first began, was that people were so consumed by political affairs that they weren’t wanting to go out and attend events as much.

In relation to such tumultuous times, he lets in that OpenMusic Project did receive a number of expressions of concern and insecurities on the part of foreign bands in regards to travelling to Barcelona. Luckily, this never had to lead to any cancellations or bigger changes in plans and now, “it’s just business as usual”.

We later touch upon some of his favourite moments since kickstarting the initiative, and while he admits that some of the project’s collaborations with “cool brands such as Kr3w, Obey, and Supra” were all highlights for him, it’s the creation of their own festival Mayday Mambo that holds his sweetest memory. The three-day, multi-venue event from last May gave OpenMusic the opportunity to gather and collect “all the bands we love from all over the world. We brought bands from Australia, Canada, UK and basically all Europe”.

It’s clear that punk rock, hardcore, and psychedelia all play pivotal roles as genres when it comes to OpenMusic’s concert programming and target audience. Some of the better musical discoveries made by the project have all come out of the broader alternative rock scene. Asked to handpick a few local artists to watch for the future, Juan is quick to select Los Nastys, The Parrots, Aliment, Biznaga, Futuro Terror, and La Plata.

We wrap up the conversation by looking at what’s next for OpenMusic this year: “Of course, the ultimate goal is to get bigger bands. However, this year we also want to work on further establishing a strong brand recognition for OpenMusic. We want to create a more solid local scene around the project whereby people value, respect, and trust the brand and the promoters behind it”.

It’s not hard to realise how this would translate in practice: a quest of achieving a transcendent awareness for the movement. Even if people don’t know the bands playing a given event organised by the project, by knowing that OpenMusic is behind said event, those people would still choose to attend, because they would be sure it’s going to be worthwhile as guaranteed by the OpenMusic stamp.

Why would this be such an important step forward for 2018? “Because ultimately”, Juan wraps up, “those would be the people who share the exact same passion we have for discovering new music unconditionally”.

Fins la pròxima vegada i bon any nou!

———- NFB

Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

OMP_Hero

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO SIETE – SMOKING HOT HOLIDAYS | 2017-12-29

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

We all know that the Christmas holiday period is usually reserved for special treats and cheerful enjoyment, and this year should be no exception. In Barcelona you can do this by avoiding anything to do with the continuing sociopolitical crisis in Catalonia, and focussing instead on what the city is best for: discovering quality indigenous music.

However, this might be harder than you expect. December is another key month in the secession challenge, as the snap Catalan election invoked earlier this fall by Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy took place on December 21, after the regional government was removed from office.

Nonetheless, despite the undisputed political relevance of the month, the last one of 2017 was devoted to visiting what represents one of the most highly anticipated music venues of Barcelona: Sala Apolo.

Apolo is regarded as being among Barcelona’s coolest spots for the newest sounds, both local and foreign, as well as the most cutting edge musical styles. The club is a proper musical emblem of the city and has been for more than thirty years, comprising multiple concert halls and nightclub areas with a total capacity of around 1,000.

Situated in the culturally thriving neighbourhood of El Poble-sec – just West of the Gothic quarter in the city center – and residing at the feet of stunning mount Montjuïc, the venue is made up of two adjacent surfaces: Apolo 1 and Apolo 2.

Apolo 1 is the bigger of the two and has more of a classic vibe, notwithstanding some ancient theatrical flair: tall ceilings, a massive stage and vast amounts of red velvet. Apolo 2, on the other hand, represents the venue’s modern face, catering to club events. Its design is much darker and smaller, and it boasts an outstanding sound system and production.

Apolo’s cutting edge music programming, arguably best-in-breed for Barcelona, is fueled by established partnerships with numerous festivals and entertainment events, most notably a longstanding collaboration with the prestigious Primavera Sound.

Both Apolo 1 and Apolo 2 are open every single night of the week, as they function as live gig rooms until midnight, after which DJs usually hit the decks and take over the halls. The genres on offer tend to span everything from techno to punk rock, including, but not limited to, a wealth of hip-hop, dubstep, and burlesque.

The genre on offer tonight is an uncompromising throwback to rock and roll: the live show of Los Zigarros, a ’70s-indebted rock four-piece from Valencia. Taking their own spin on the word ‘cigarro’ (cigarette in Spanish), the band have so far put out two studio albums (2013’s self-titled debut and last year’s ‘A Todo Que Sí’) and are characterized by immediate, catchy, and fun proto-punk/rockabilly tunes.

Fresh from a prestigious exclusive supporting role for the mighty Rolling Stones in Spain, the Valencians are on tour in the Iberian peninsula throughout autumn/winter. Los Zigarros, who are signed to Universal Music and formed by brothers Ovidi (vocals and guitar) and Álvaro Tormo (guitars), Adrián Ribes (drums) and Nacho Tamarit (bass), had the whole evening for themselves, as no opening act was scheduled to play that night. Not a frequent occurrence these days, given the industry’s self-proclaimed emphasis on live performances in this age of falling traditional sales revenues.

Shortly after 9pm, the rockers appeared from backstage accompanied by police sirens to a nearly full-house audience averaging in their mid-thirties. Los Zigarros immediately took off with their direct and instigating dose of classic rock and roll, not without flirting with early ’77 punk elements.

Fitted with a lot of leather, tight shirts, and skinny trousers giving them the right dosage of bad boy look, the group seemed genuinely happy to be back in Barcelona and awarded the audience with their most catchy and thin sound driven by slick guitar riffs from the get go.

One of the things that stood out, as soon as Los Zigarros started their set, was the impressive sound production in Sala Apolo. Unlike some other venues in the city, Apolo is a venue specifically designed for and constructed around live music performances. That is, instead of leveraging the latter offering as a mere add-on to food and beverage catering to the public with obvious sub-par acoustic shortcomings, witnessing a gig at Apolo feels like an outstanding musical experience.

In addition to the infrastructure benefits, Los Zigarros did their part to contribute to a fabulous and sparkly show, led primarily by charming and riveting front-man Ovidi, as well as a commendable chemistry.

Bassist Nacho’s delivery was left a bit too much in the background, but the group’s sound was stomping, hard-hitting, and pleasantly reverberating. They wore their rock and punk influences clearly on their sleeves, feeling like a best-of selection of flashy retro vibes, delivered in constant fashion throughout the two-hour show.

Despite little familiarity with Los Zigarros’ catalogue, some of their cuts needed little time to stick to my ears, thanks to impressive hooks and effective songwriting found in most of their repertoire (but check ‘Dentro De La Ley’, ‘Baila Conmigo’, and ‘¿Qué Demonios Hago Yo Aquí?’ above all).

The band seem to have found a working formula for themselves, highlighted by placing either a lead guitar or bass lick earworm in most songs and sticking to it throughout their full set.

This formula proved to be an effective choice indeed, yet I’m not sure the audience could have sustained any longer of that ‘more-of-the-same’ approach when Los Zigarros pulled the curtains with a bombastic encore climax, closing a lengthy show with a series of popular and well-received cover songs (Nirvana, The Knack, The Kinks), as well as a successful audience marriage proposal on stage.

It was hard to avoid the surreal contrast of people lightheartedly enjoying their night out to ace rock and roll, while at the same time approaching one of the most crucial political weeks in their recent history. This felt even more so out of place at the dawn of the Christmas holidays.

Yet what better distraction from politics than some quality rock export from Valencia. The Spanish PM might have banned the whole Catalan government earlier this season, but tonight proved one thing: cigarettes won’t be banned for some time in this country.

Fins la pròxima vegada i bon Nadal!

———- NFB

Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

SalaApolo

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2017 | 2017-12-22

prisoner_ra RYAN ADAMS – PRISONER (PAXAM RECORDING)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

CWK_LADivine COLD WAR KIDS – LA DIVINE (CWKTWO CORP.)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

KDot_Damn KENDRICK LAMAR – DAMN. (AFTERMATH/INTERSCOPE)

Buy it here.

 

ATDI_Inter Alia AT THE DRIVE IN – INTER ALIA (RISE RECORDS)

Buy it here.

 

68_TwoPartsViper ’68 – TWO PARTS VIPER (CHARIOT MUSIC, INC.)

Buy it here.

 

BH_Saturation BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION (QUESTION EVERYTHING, INC.)

Buy it here.

 

VS_Big Fish Theory VINCE STAPLES – BIG FISH THEORY (DEF JAM RECORDINGS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

Tyler_FlowerBoy TYLER, THE CREATOR – FLOWER BOY (COLUMBIA RECORDS)

Buy it here.

 

BH_SaturationII BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION II (QUESTION EVERYTHING, INC.)

Buy it here.

 

BH_SaturationIII BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION III (QUESTION EVERYTHING, INC.)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And happy holidays this time around.

AV